Puck Magazine (1877-1918) was the creation of Austrian immigrant Joseph Keppler. In St. Louis in 1870 and 1871 Keppler put out German-language periodicals, but both failed. After experience in New York City working on the well-established Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, in 1876 Keppler tried a German-language satirical magazine called Puck. It found support among backers who wanted it written in English. In March 1877, the first issue of Puck in English appeared—sixteen pages long and selling for ten cents. Readers liked the cartoon satires, which were rare in American periodicals at that time. Keppler continued to publish Puck in German, but in fifteen years he had switched to English only.
The cartoons had a political cast. Keppler churned out the cartoons while Henry Cuyler Bunner was responsible for the poems, ballads, character sketches, short stories, and dialogue that accompanied Keppler’s lithographs. The magazine was named for William Shakespeare’s character, Puck, in Midsummer Night’s Dream, chiefly remembered for his line, “What fools these mortals be!” And the tone of Puck Magazine echoed that by poking fun at human nature generally and specifically.
Puck’s main target was political corruption—regardless of whether it originated in the Republican or the Democratic Party. Contemporary controversies such as church scandals, women’s suffrage, the influence of the Masons, the increase in divorce, the power of business trusts, and the immorality of colonialism also garnered reportage from Puck. Aimed at white men of means, its popularity and circulation soared, reaching nearly 90,000 subscribers in the 1890s and prompting associated publications such as Puck’s Library and Pickings from Puck.
New York politician Theodore Roosevelt graced the cover of Puck more than eighty times in his career. Most of his coverage was positive or at least neutral, but this changed somewhat after John Kendrick Bangs took over the editorship of the magazine in 1904. Under his aegis cartoonist Grant Hamilton began a series lambasting President Roosevelt and his policies.
The Hearst conglomerate purchased Puck in 1917 and replaced the hard-hitting political commentary with a focus on the fine arts and social fads. Declining subscriptions resulted in Hearst’s decision to discontinue Puck in September 1918.